A patent is a type of intellectual property that gives the owner the right to legally exclude all others from using, selling, producing or importing the invention that is covered by that patent. There’s an incorrect assumption that a patent is only for inventors of strange, new gadgets. In reality, many businesses can benefit from holding patents, and not just those involved in manufacturing or technology. The United States Patent Office explains that a patent is designed to protect a broad array of inventions, even ones that are only minor improvements on previous inventions as long as the new invention is novel and non-obvious. Patents can be obtained not only for physical inventions, but also for communication implementation, cutting edge processes, and even innovative business methods.
Obtaining a Patent
Applying for patents can be a simple process, however the application materials themselves can be very complicated and hard to put together — especially if the new invention to be covered under the patent is complicated. It is generally recommended that you use a patent attorney to help you file your patent, however it is also possible to do the work yourself if you are willing to put in the time to learn the ins-and-outs of drafting patents. You can complete the necessary applications entirely online. Once you file your patent application you begin the process of patent prosecution, which describes the interaction between applicants and their representatives, and a patent office with regard to a patent, or an application for a patent. There is likely to be a good deal of back and forth between you and the patent office before a patent can be issued.
Types of Patents
There are three different types of patents:
- Design Patent: To protect ornamental characteristics of your work.
- Utility Patent: Covers machines, manufactured products, processes, and new compositions. This is by far the most common type. According to the USPTO about 90% of the patent documents issued fall into this category.(1)
- Plant Patent: For a distinct, discovered, or invented asexually reproduced plant. Such plants can include hybrids, seedlings, mutants, or even a plant that is not yet cultivated.
The Many Advantages of Patents
The benefits of filing for a patent on behalf of your business are clear. First, a patent offers protection against competitors, at least for the time period of the patent. A patent isn’t created only to protect the property from competition. Holding a patent gives the developer time to recoup some of their research and development costs and recover from the initial financial and legal costs. By retaining exclusivity, the inventor can ensure the product or process remains valuable. This also gives the originating business ample opportunity to build customer loyalty, before the patent expires, and others are free to design, distribute, or otherwise utilize that idea.
Patent research can also be useful in saving company time and resources. For instance, if a search is conducted prior to beginning implementation for some new product or method, and it’s discovered that a patent for that idea has already been filed, it could prevent months or even years of unnecessary research and development. Taking this precaution could also potentially help avoid any possible costly infringement lawsuits. This patent search is a simple process and can be conducted on the United States Patent and Trademark Office website.
Another reason to consider filing for patents is that holding patents often increases the overall value of a business. They are assets that often increase in value over time, which adds to a company’s book value, making it more attractive to potential investors. Alternatively, patents can potentially be sold to a buyer or licensed to other interested parties for a percentage of their future sales. Either way, patents can open new roads to profit and contribute to a company’s financial stability.
Patents, trademarks, and copyrights work together to protect the financial and intellectual resources invested in your business. Proper research and implementation of these tools can contribute to continued fiscal success while encouraging future growth. With the process for obtaining a patent being made increasingly more convenient, there is little reason not to apply for one.